Scientists decode how Mars may have lost its atmosphere

Agencies
February 21, 2021

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Washington, Feb 21: Solar winds may have led to Mars losing its atmosphere, according to a computer simulation study which confirms the long held belief that planets need a protective magnetic field to block such harmful radiations in order to sustain life.

While factors like the existence of a moderately warm, moist atmosphere and liquid water determine whether a planet can host life, the study, published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, noted that the ability of planets to generate magnetic fields around them is an overlooked aspect.

According to the scientists, Arnab Basak and Dibyendu Nandi from the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER) Kolkata, these magnetic fields enveloping planets can act like a protective umbrella, shielding the atmosphere from the super fast plasma winds of the Sun.

On the Earth, they said a geo-dynamo mechanism generates the planet's protective magnetosphere -- an invisible shield that stops the solar wind from eroding away our atmosphere.

In the current study, the scientists simulated two scenarios of the Red Planet -- one considering a young Mars with its magnetosphere intact, and the other with the planet without this force field.

The simulations revealed that in the young Mars, the magnetosphere may have acted as a shield stopping the solar wind from coming too close to the planet's atmosphere thus protecting it.

Without an intrinsic magnetosphere, the researchers said the solar wind magnetic field may have first draped around, and slipped past Mars, carrying bits of the planet's atmosphere away, eventually eroding it completely.

They said the findings confirm the belief that the magnetospheres around planets play a crucial role in determining their ability to sustain life.

Alternatively, planets that lose their magnetic field eventually become inhospitable with loss of their atmosphere, the scientists added.

The researchers believe the study has important implications for the search for habitable exoplanets via initiatives like NASA's James Webb Space Telescope and ISRO's ExoWorlds mission.

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Agencies
February 23,2021

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Washington, Feb 23: NASA on Monday released the first high-quality video of a spacecraft landing on Mars, a three-minute trailer showing the enormous orange and white parachute hurtling open and the red dust kicking up as rocket engines lowered the rover to the surface.

The footage was so good and the images so breathtaking that members of the rover team said they felt like they were riding along.

Your front-row seat to my Mars landing is here. Watch how we did it.#CountdownToMars pic.twitter.com/Avv13dSVmQ

— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) February 22, 2021

It gives me goose bumps every time I see it, just amazing, said Dave Gruel, head of the entry and descent camera team.

The Perseverance rover landed last Thursday near an ancient river delta in Jezero Crater to search for signs of ancient microscopic life. After spending the weekend binge-watching the descent and landing video, the team at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, shared the video at a news conference.

These videos and these images are the stuff of our dreams," said Al Chen, who was in charge of the landing team.

Six off-the-shelf color cameras were devoted to entry, descent and landing, looking up and down from different perspectives. All but one camera worked. The lone microphone turned on for landing failed, but NASA got some snippets of sound after touchdown: the whirring of the rover's systems and wind gusts.

Flight controllers were thrilled with the thousands of images beamed back and also with the remarkably good condition of NASA's biggest and most capable rover yet. It will spend the next two years exploring the dry river delta and drilling into rocks that may hold evidence of life 3 billion to 4 billion years ago. The core samples will be set aside for return to Earth in a decade.

NASA added 25 cameras to the USD 3 billion mission the most ever sent to Mars. The space agency's previous rover, 2012's Curiosity, managed only jerky, grainy stop-motion images, mostly of terrain. Curiosity is still working. So is NASA's InSight lander, although it's hampered by dusty solar panels.

They may have company in late spring, when China attempts to land its own rover, which went into orbit around Mars two weeks ago.

Deputy project manager Matt Wallace said he was inspired several years ago to film Perseverance's harrowing descent when his young gymnast daughter wore a camera while performing a backflip.

Some of the spacecraft systems like the sky crane used to lower the rover onto the Martian surface could not be tested on Earth.

So this is the first time we've had a chance as engineers to actually see what we designed, Wallace told reporters.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's science mission chief, said the video and also the panoramic views following touchdown are the closest you can get to landing on Mars without putting on a pressure suit.

The images will help NASA prepare for astronaut flights to Mars in the decades ahead, according to the engineers.

There's a more immediate benefit.

I know it's been a tough year for everybody, said imaging scientist Justin Maki, and we're hoping that maybe these images will help brighten people's days.

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Agencies
February 21,2021

Image result for Scientists decode how Mars may have lost its atmosphere

Washington, Feb 21: Solar winds may have led to Mars losing its atmosphere, according to a computer simulation study which confirms the long held belief that planets need a protective magnetic field to block such harmful radiations in order to sustain life.

While factors like the existence of a moderately warm, moist atmosphere and liquid water determine whether a planet can host life, the study, published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, noted that the ability of planets to generate magnetic fields around them is an overlooked aspect.

According to the scientists, Arnab Basak and Dibyendu Nandi from the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER) Kolkata, these magnetic fields enveloping planets can act like a protective umbrella, shielding the atmosphere from the super fast plasma winds of the Sun.

On the Earth, they said a geo-dynamo mechanism generates the planet's protective magnetosphere -- an invisible shield that stops the solar wind from eroding away our atmosphere.

In the current study, the scientists simulated two scenarios of the Red Planet -- one considering a young Mars with its magnetosphere intact, and the other with the planet without this force field.

The simulations revealed that in the young Mars, the magnetosphere may have acted as a shield stopping the solar wind from coming too close to the planet's atmosphere thus protecting it.

Without an intrinsic magnetosphere, the researchers said the solar wind magnetic field may have first draped around, and slipped past Mars, carrying bits of the planet's atmosphere away, eventually eroding it completely.

They said the findings confirm the belief that the magnetospheres around planets play a crucial role in determining their ability to sustain life.

Alternatively, planets that lose their magnetic field eventually become inhospitable with loss of their atmosphere, the scientists added.

The researchers believe the study has important implications for the search for habitable exoplanets via initiatives like NASA's James Webb Space Telescope and ISRO's ExoWorlds mission.

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Agencies
February 24,2021

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California, Feb 24: The huge parachute used by NASA's Perseverance rover to land on Mars contained a secret message, thanks to a puzzle lover on the spacecraft team.

Systems engineer Ian Clark used a binary code to spell out Dare Mighty Things in the orange and white strips of the 70-foot (21-metre) parachute. He also included the GPS coordinates for the mission's headquarters at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Clark, a crossword hobbyist, came up with the idea two years ago. Engineers wanted an unusual pattern in the nylon fabric to know how the parachute was oriented during descent. Turning it into a secret message was super fun", he said Tuesday.

Only about six people knew about the encoded message before Thursday's landing, according to Clark. They waited until the parachute images came back before putting out a teaser during a televised news conference on Monday.

It took just a few hours for space fans to figure it out, Clark said. Next time, he noted, I'll have to be a little bit more creative.

Dare Mighty Things a line from President Theodore Roosevelt is a mantra at JPL and adorns many of the centre's walls. The trick was trying to come up with a way of encoding it but not making it too obvious," Clark said.

As for the GPS coordinates, the spot is 10 feet (3 metres) from the entrance to JPL's visitor centre.

Another added touch not widely known until touchdown: Perseverance bears a plaque depicting all five of NASA's Mars rovers in increasing size over the years similar to the family car decals seen on Earth.

Deputy project manager Matt Wallace promises more so-called hidden Easter eggs. They should be visible once Perseverance's 7-foot (2-metre) arm is deployed in a few days and starts photographing under the vehicle, and again when the rover is driving in a couple weeks.

Definitely, definitely should keep a good lookout, he urged.

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